Measles, once eradicated in the United States, is rearing its ugly head again.
An outbreak of measles in Minnesota is following a now-familiar pattern. This outbreak started in a Somali-American community that was targeted by so-called “anti-vaxxers” in recent years after some parents in the community enrolled their children in services for autistic children.
Anti-vaxxers often base their objections to MMR vaccinations on a study by Andrew Wakefield showing a link between the vaccinations and autism in children. However, according to Newsweek, Wakefield in 2010 was stripped of his medical license for ethical violations, and the study was retracted after it was found to be based on falsified data.
Though Wakefield’s theory has been disproved time and again by research, misguided anti-vaxxers continue to act as fearmongers. Unfortunately, some parents in the Minnesota community took their inaccurate message to heart and refused to vaccinate their children against measles, mumps and rubella. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 78 people in that state have come down with measles. Of those, 71 were unvaccinated, three had one MMR vaccination (two are recommended), three had two doses, and the vaccination status of one is currently unknown.
The disease has popped up in 11 states from coast to coast this year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, from Jan. 1 to May 20, 100 people in California, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington were reported to have measles.
Measles was considered in 2000 to be eradicated from the United States. But that was the before the rise in popularity of anti-vaccine misinformation.
Since then, the worst outbreak occurred in 2014, when a family who had measles visited Disneyland, exposing thousands of people to the disease. That year, there were 667 cases of measles in the United States.
Measles is highly contagious. The virus is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It lingers in the air and on surfaces for hours, making it possible to catch measles by being in a room hours after someone with the disease left it.
It typically begins with a high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes.
Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth. Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104 degrees.
After a few days, the fever subsides and the rash fades.
Measles was once a common childhood disease. But it was, and is, far from harmless.
According to the CDC, ear infections occur in about one of every 10 children with measles and can result in permanent hearing loss. About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability.
For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it. Measles may cause pregnant women to give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby, the CDC website says.
The good news here is that there have been no cases of measles in Wyoming “since maybe 2010,” according to Kim Deti, public relations specialist for the Wyoming Department of Health.
Deti said Wyoming has not seen a significant decrease in MMR immunizations, such as some other states have experienced.
“According to the National Immunization Survey, we’ve actually seen a slight increase in MMR rates over the past few years,” Deti said.
But, sadly, that may be changing.
“I’m told we have seen a 5 percent increase in exemption requests for MMR from 2015 to 2016,” Deti said. “We continue to encourage parents to follow the recommended schedule of vaccines for their children.”
That schedule calls for children to be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella at between 15 and 18 months, and again between 4 and 5 years of age.
By vaccinating our children, we not only protect them from three very unpleasant and dangerous diseases, but we also help protect those people who cannot be vaccinated, such as babies and toddlers under 15 months, people with cancer and those with autoimmune disorders.
Parents in days gone by would have given almost anything to have a way to spare their children from the ravages of measles and other childhood diseases. Today, we have that. The fears raised by the anti-vaccination movement are unproven, but the diseases like measles are real, dangerous and, thanks to vaccines, very preventable.
For the health and well-being of your children, and the community in general, please vaccinate them.